Nasty coughs in the nineteenth century

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s quite amazing how many people died of chest and lung related complaints in the late nineteenth century.

Not surprising really.

I grew up in Stirling, in Scotland, which was at first glance a quiet middle class sort of place. Today it’s all nice and clean and touristy, but when I was a child people had coal fires, and indeed the town was surrounded by coal mines – I can even remember seeing men coming up from a shift below ground.

Later, in my teens, when I took to hillwalking in the Ochil hills above the town, I can remember the developing pall of smoke on a winter’s afternoon when people lit their fires.

No wonder people died of what are now preventable diseases.

This is confirmed by a New Zealand project looking at the remains and burial records of early settlers in the South Island also shows the prevalance of respiratory diseases, doubtless accentuated by living in damp conditions and breathing in smoke from open fires.

So it’s no surprise that patent medicines like Hayman’s Balsam of Horehound and Baxter’s Lung preserver were popular – probably most of the population would have had a persistent cough over winter.

At least the horehound balsam may have done some good, it’s been used for treating respiratory ailments since Roman times

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About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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